In Baltimore, the bikes were either stolen or never returned. In New York City, one of the nation’s largest bike-share programs was hit with a record number of thefts in 2015. The same story has repeated worldwide as bike shares grow in number and popularity.
But since a bike-share program launched here in 2015, thefts have been relatively minimal, begging the question: Why?
Compared to the hundreds of thefts reported in the cities mentioned above, Healthy Ride, the non-profit leading Pittsburgh’s program, says it’s seen only 10 thefts over the last two years and “minimal vandalism.”
That’s 10 out of 500 total bikes.
“Every bike-share system experiences some theft and vandalism, such is the nature of operating in the public space,” Erin Potts, Healthy Ride’s director of marketing and community outreach, told The Incline.
“But every year Healthy Ride experiences less theft and vandalism than what we anticipate for in our annual budget.”
Part of the answer may lie in Healthy Ride’s hardware.
Earlier this year, the nonprofit updated its docks to make the system more user-friendly. The new approach involved upgraded mounted cable locks for securing bikes at stations in addition to mid-trip and at docking stations without vacancies. (Healthy Ride’s bikes previously had the cable lock but only for mid-trip use and for locking bikes at full stations.)
“I know with the old docking system, creative thieves figured out a hack to steal bikes,” said Scott Bricker of Bike Pittsburgh, a pedestrian and cyclist advocacy group. “I have heard that since putting in the new docks that utilize the on-bike lock, that thefts have declined.”
While the upgraded docks only came a few months ago and can’t be credited with the lack of thefts seen prior to that, Potts said they certainly haven’t hurt. A breakdown of theft data before and after the dock change was not immediately available. The Pittsburgh Bureau of Police did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
Though Healthy Ride has escaped the wave of thefts hitting similar programs elsewhere, it has struggled with a lack a ridership. Recently, efforts to grow the program’s popularity have included a new campaign offering free bike-share bikes to users of public transportation.
“I think we can attribute at least part of our lack of serious theft and vandalism in Pittsburgh to Healthy Ride’s locks and on-bike keypads that allow riders to lock up their bike when they leave it unattended to run into a store to grab coffee, unlike [Baltimore and New York City],” Potts said.
In New York City, home to some 12,000 Citi Bikes, the program chalks its theft issues up to riders who either fail to properly dock the bikes or leave them unsecured to run an errand.
Meanwhile, in Baltimore, previously home to 200 sharable bikes, industry-standard locks proved no match for the city’s thieves, and the thefts were so pervasive that the city was forced to halt the entire program last month. The program was relaunched Sunday with fewer bikes — just 50.
“We work with a different equipment provider than NYC and Baltimore. We use a company called nextbike, while Baltimore uses Bewegen Technologies and NYC uses Motivate. Each system comes with different bikes, locks, docks, and software. Our former docks (and current) were different than both of these systems and we also have smart bike technology on each bike, also unlike Baltimore and NYC.I can tell you that Baltimore’s experience is unlike any other system in the US. It’s out of the ordinary and is not something that we’ve seen here in Pittsburgh. I did see that they launched a smaller fleet over the weekend and have hopefully made necessary improvements to their locks.
Cleveland also launched a small bike-share program in 2014 and said a combination of high-quality locks and docks helped prevent theft there. A Washington D.C. program also reported a relative lack of pilfered pedals, possibly because users are held financially responsible if a bike is stolen on their watch.
Potts said Pittsburgh’s program is uniquely equipped with smart bikes and cable locks that effectively lock bikes both at stations and outside of stations. Potts said this has helped keep more bikes on the road and out of the hands of thieves.
There’s another possibility, too: That despite all of Pittsburgh’s bike lane bellyaching, the city isn’t as hostile toward cycling as it might appear.
…make that two more possibilities: “I’d also like to attribute the lack of issues to the fact that Pittsburgh is simply full of kind, excellent people,” Potts said.
No offense, Baltimore.